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Crowd meets to discuss city's future art landscape

November 1st, 2011 10:02 pm by Gary B. Gray

Crowd meets to discuss city's future art landscape

The Johnson City Public Art Committee met Tuesday night at Millennium Centre to gather input about what kinds of visual improvements people would like to see at city parks, on or near city buildings and on walkways and pedestrian corridors.
About 200 guests listened as guidelines for the committee’s master plan were laid out. But what happened next was the total reverse of the old “please state your name and speak into the microphone” public hearing cliche.
“Come and play,” boomed committee member Sarah Davis to a slightly befuddled crowd. “Is that OK?”
“Yeah!” came a few tentative replies, which were followed with louder affirmations.
Davis, who also is the Johnson City Area Arts Council executive director, pointed behind her to an oversized — and for the time being empty — white backdrop with the word “WOW” at the top.
“What does WOW mean to you?” she asked. “Tell us what it is about public art that wows you. Come up to the table. Grab a pen. Get a piece of paper. Yell out what you want to see.”
And they did.
“Color and flowing water,” came a burst of noise from the audience.
Committee members cruised around the room gathering and reading notes that were placed on the previously empty white space.
“Place it along walkways in Johnson City.”
“Green space in or close to downtown.”
“Something children can play on.”
“A sculpture at the intersection of (West) Market (Street) and (North) State of Franklin (Road) in the shape of a medical symbol so we can look at it while we’re waiting at the red light!”
Now that’s input.
The committee, which officially formed in August 2010, has been working on a master plan that will act as a foundation, or baseline, for what’s to come — something like a Christmas tree without the ornaments. Committee members will now take Tuesday’s input and consider it for inclusion in the plan.
But there is still a lot of ground to cover. Although there have been some corporate and other financial commitments, a fundraising committee will need to be formed. The plan will need to be more sharply defined. And, as it nears completion, it will need to be run by the City Commission where it’s likely that additional suggestions will be introduced.
Last year, as they were taking their first group baby steps, members pledged not to pigeon-hole themselves into thinking they must duplicate similar programs in Bristol and Kingsport and each has been doing a lot of research since that time. They have been gathering ideas from cities around the country and around the world regarding what types of art they think will be most popular and pleasing.
“It is our hope that implementation of the plan will expand over time and become a centerpiece for understanding our community by both our citizens and visitors,” said Anita DeAngelis, a committee member who also is an artist and administrator at East Tennessee State University.
An exploratory committee formed last year and was comprised of members of the Mary B. Martin School of the Arts at ETSU, the Reece Museum, Johnson City Area Arts Council, Nelson Fine Arts Gallery, the city’s parks and recreation department and Holt Photography. The result was a 12-member committee.
With the help of the city’s public works department, which acted as a conduit — and will continue to act as a liaison — to city commissioners and staff, the committee’s basic goals were made clear and their mission was established. The result is the likelihood that the city will be see some first-class sculptures and other art forms spring up between East Tennessee State University and the downtown area, and later in the heart of downtown.
Atmos Energy already has verbally committed $25,000 to the program, said Public Works Director Phil Pindzola.
The initial focus will be on outlining a plan and hiring a curator. The curator and committee will judge and recommend to the City Commission from 12 to 15 works deemed most appropriate. The selected sculptures would be rented from the artist for one year, with the typical rate ranging from $1,000-$2,000 per sculpture.
The committee will continue to meet monthly to gather ideas and begin implementation.
Anyone in the community would have the opportunity to purchase any of the sculptures on display, either for private purposes or permanent public display. After one year, the displays would be removed and a second solicitation for sculptures would occur to create a continual annual renewal. The process would continue indefinitely. And in coming years, the types or forms of art could expand to include murals and other works.
None of these plans are absolutely unchangeable, and there are no strict “rules.”
Isn’t that the nature of art?
To obtain a copy of the Johnson City Public Art Committee master plan, inquire about serving on the committee or for additional information, go to or call 434-6080.

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